Female genital mutilation survivor in St. John's advocates for support, awareness
As N.L. welcomes more immigrants, there should be more awareness, says Maryam Sheikh Abdikadir
Thursday is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, and while the practice is mostly carried out in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, one survivor in St. John's says there are others like her in Newfoundland and Labrador and the province should prepare for more to come.
Maryam Sheikh Abdikadir of Kenya was cut when she was six years old. She was subjected to arguably the most cruel and invasive form of female genital mutilation.
"To date, if I get the smell of blood, my mind actually goes to that day," she said, recalling screams of the other girls who went through the procedure ahead of her.
FGM, which serves no medical purpose and is considered a human rights violation, is generally carried out on children between infancy and age 15, according to the World Health Organization.
As Newfoundland and Labrador welcomes more immigrants from places where the practice takes place, Abdikadir said, the province — its people and physicians — should learn about mutilation.
"Can you imagine a young girl who was cut when she was six years old and she doesn't know and she comes to the schools and discovers she is actually a survivor when she's, let's say, in middle school or high school?" Abdikadir said.
"How are we prepared to support that girl when she starts thinking there's something wrong with her or all this and that?"
Girls at risk
Abdikadir, who now resides in St. John's, is part of the End FGM Canada Network — a group of individuals and organizations committed to raising awareness about the practice and its relevance in this country.
Organizers want to see a national action plan to support survivors and protect girls at risk in Canada. They also want the federal government to commit more international development aid to ending the practice abroad.
If we don't talk about it, there will be all the silence and people can do all sorts of things when they're silent.- Maryam Sheikh Abdikadir
"Already we are hearing of anecdotal stories, not founded, of vacation cutting. Girls taken away, out of Canada, back home to be cut and then they are brought back," Abdikadir said.
"Is that true? And if that were happening … that's something that should make people talk about it."
According to the World Health Organization, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have had their genitals mutilated.
'The control of women'
"The main reason why it is done … is control of women," Abdikadir said.
"But of course it is garnished with a lot of other results. It's religious, it is for chastity, it is for virginity, it makes, you know, the organ beautiful — there are all these unfounded narratives holding it in place but the main result is the control of women."
The procedure can involve removing the clitoris, labia minora or both. In some cases, the labia minora or labia majora are cut, repositioned and sometimes stitched to seal the area.
According to the World Health Organization, FGM can cause severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, infections, complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
"If we don't talk about it, there will be all the silence and people can do all sorts of things when they're silent," Abdikadir said.
"We need to open up the conversation and begin discussing it and just make people aware that there are survivors and there are girls who could be at risk."